No sales, no marketing, no bluster. Just riding. The birth of RIDE KTM by those who made it.
Three decades ago, KTM was spurred into action by one of its iconic athletes to offer customers the ultimate ‘taster’ of what it means to ride in orange. To this day ‘RIDE KTM’ is an enduring and popular scheme to provide unforgettable motorcycle experiences. How did it come to be?
By Adam Wheeler.
Digging around KTM.com can sometimes deliver a few unexpected surprises. The website is not only a hub for the latest models and motorsport updates, as well as details for installations such as the KTM Motohall, but also the wider picture of Europe’s largest motorcycle manufacturer. One of the links in the ‘KTM World’ section says RIDE KTM, and one little click here opens a mass of possibilities.
Adventure escapes, Hard Enduro tours, asphalt track days, offroad camps, Californian motocross schools and more: RIDE KTM is a global program designed to introduce KTM fans or newcomers to the amplified buzz of ‘getting orange’. Some projects feature rental bikes and the latest models, others encourage KTM-ers to bring their own machinery and venture to a territory to test either their ability, their desire for the unknown or merely their sense of what’s ‘do-able’ on two wheels.
RIDE KTM is another strand of the firm’s activities that tends to set it apart from other brands and, importantly, it was born from the roots and early ethos of the company where racing, hard riding and fun are the driving (riding?) factors. KTM still has these core values today. Unsurprisingly, it was the irrepressible force of the Kinigadner family that were eagerly blipping the throttle.
“When Stefan Pierer took control of KTM in the early ‘90s I told him: ‘we have to do something or go somewhere we can use our bikes and show what they can do… or next year we won’t be selling as many’. That was the initial idea,” former motocross world champion Heinz Kinigadner tells us.
“At the time it was becoming more and more difficult – in Germany and Austria especially – to ride enduro and off-road,” adds younger brother Klaus. “So, we said ‘we must find some areas where we can take these bikes and ride them legally.’ It also became a way to ride and market the product; if the customer was not convinced about a KTM on a tour then they never would be.”
The Kinigadners took inspiration from their own exploits in island sunshine. “We first rode in Ibiza in 1988 with some 200s and they were not race bikes,” Heinz recalls. “My brother and I loaned them from a friend, and I don’t think he was too happy because we destroyed them! From that point we got the first KTMs.”
“At first it was just some hard enduro days for fun and actually a story for an Austrian magazine,” explains Klaus. “We thought then ‘this could be something for the future’. The first one happened in 1991 and we then did it a couple of times a year on the island because Heinz was still racing Rally and I was doing Supermoto. He then stopped in 2000 and I stopped in 2004 and RIDE KTM became more serious.”
The project developed with another former ace, Christoph Attiger, bringing his touch to proceedings. “The motivation was to show people the potential of the motorcycles and also their limits and that philosophy has not changed over thirty years, it has stayed the same,” he says. “We wanted riders to be happy that they were tired in the evenings!”
The scope of RIDE KTM began to change and evolve. “I was racing Rally and it [RIDE KTM] just seemed like a way to go out riding with ‘invited friends’ and explore the world on a bike and not in the normal places, also outside an official organization or a competition,” Heinz describes. “This was also part of the idea. One year we organized a trip to Tunisia, called the ‘Oasis Rally’ and that exists to this day, with the same date at the beginning of March, at the beginning of the central European riding season. It is still growing. It already looks like we are overbooked for 2024.”
As KTM expanded, the product range flourished, the technology improved and therefore so did the potential of RIDE KTM. “It was a pioneering thing, absolutely,” Heinz adds. “I always tried to make sure we had some of our factory guys on trips to add a bit more value or be there to give some advice. The goal was always to have more fun, and more fun together. That was the basis for everything.”
RIDE KTM is no longer the domain of expert or Pro level riders that want a getaway with mates. “I would say the demographic has not changed too much; 35-55 years of age but compared to the beginning I believe the level is more universal,” Klaus remarks. “When we were still racing then the clients were probably more advanced. Now it is for riders of all levels; beginners to very advanced and every year we try to offer something new. Possibilities for new areas or countries. Our philosophy about the experience has changed over the years. We want everyone to take something from every trip and not just the hardcore adventure guys.”
“The progression of the bikes means that the level of the tours becomes very broad because you have more beginners and more people that want to discover the experience,” believes Attiger. “You end up with more tours! And that’s a great thing. It isn’t just about the professionals or hardcore riders.”
“I was like a shepherd in the early days,” Heinz smiles. “If a rider tipped-off and a bike stopped then they were very hard to restart, especially those old four-strokes without electric starts and I felt very responsible for the guys, for our clients. I actually showed Stefan [Pierer] some good tips when he came to Ibiza one year. The bikes now are fantastic: the 450s, 300s, they handle so much better. There is almost no comparison.”
Klaus is deeply integrated into the tour and adventure segments of RIDE KTM, which involves updates and resources as much as logistics. “I would say 20-22 weeks of the year I am on trips” he reveals. “We run 25 different tours that range from a week to shorter ones of three days.
“People want to use and try the best equipment on the market, so we try to have the best available, and that everything is fully prepared for the job; details like moose tires, bigger fuel tanks and so on. The bikes have advanced of course. We have never had to stop a tour because of any reliability problem or damage.”
Attiger was also passionate about the leadership role in RIDE KTM. “To be able to work in Hard Enduro tours is a really special feeling; it was a dream to be able to say: ‘this is my job’ and help make people happy on the bike.”
The fantasy aspect of a motorcycle tour or experience is something that mystifies and captures the heart of any rider who has steered a bike somewhere new, somewhere beautiful, somewhere outside of their comfort zone and all the while on good equipment and in good company. The forefathers of RIDE KTM are aware of the powerful emotions created through the simple notion of an excursion. They still have their preferences though!
“Morocco or one of the Classic tours are always heavily booked,” says Attiger.
“The best destination for me is still Morocco,” comments Klaus. “It is a very good mix of big adventure, landscapes, the people, the culture. We’ve been to many places – from Mongolia to India to Dubai – but I always come back to Morocco.”
“I like Ibiza for tours because it offers everything you need for fun,” states Kini senior. “For Adventures then Morocco is good, but Tunisia is my preferred location because everything is easier to control and it’s easier to find people if they have become lost!”
Get lost in the best possible way for 2024 by finding more information about RIDE KTM HERE.